Recently stepped back into the UU circles to find my local church embroiled in a debate over reworking the principals and rational individualism. As one who came of age as part of the UUA and is now returning from raumspringa, this is a mini-manifesto of why I think irrational communalism has a place in the UUA right alongside the enlightenment principals of rational individualism.
A manifesto of Irrational Communalism
(A postmodern response to a dilemma within the UUA.)
There was once a time in the history of our species, long after we began to group together as tribes but long before the invention of currency. It was a time where our communities never got bigger than a hundred or two. It was a time when we as people were able to remember every single face in our local existence. We could remember who it would be intelligent to trust. We could remember in whom our faith could be most wisely invested. We could remember the promises we made to each other, if only because the ‘other’ was always right there, next to us.
The channels and nets responsible for facilitating the exchange of matter and energy between individuals of the tribal ecosystems were systems made of faith. Not faith in some supernatural force, but rather faith in each other. It is an active decision we make when we choose to let our defenses down around each other. It is an active decision to have faith in someone else's rationality. What the tribes had was faith in an equilibrium, that if I have your back you'll have mine, and that for every leap of faith we invest towards the community, the community will invest one right back.
This was the old magic. This was irrational communalism. And it is something which has been lost by western society.
Slowly, the tribes discovered new technologies which allowed their numbers to grow. No longer could the individuals rely on just their memories to know who in their community is worth investing faith into. So, instead of placing faith in each other, we invented a talisman -the technology of currency. By placing our faith into currency instead of each other, we remove the risk of accidentally placing our faith into a bad person - because a dollar is a dollar, regardless of who you get it from.
Over time people have accumulated these talismans of social faith. With all of this faith amassed and stored for the long-term, they begin to lose track of why we constructed this ecosystem of faith in the first place - to take care of the community. Instead, we have come to rationalize ourselves to be individuals who don't need to have faith in the community anymore. They had all the faith they needed - faith that they would be provided the resources they required through expenditure of their investment.
It's why people are leaving the faith communities in droves. The people can recognize that we have to place our faith somewhere other than the talismans if we are going to survive. We can recognize that an ancient covenant has been broken - the covenant which brought our society together in the first place. And when we lose sight of our covenant, we lose sight of our community. Today, I look around to find that we no longer have faith in each other, or our covenants, and that our ecosystems of faith are beginning to dissolve.
All across America, from the liberals to the conservatives to the hippies and the fash, so many faith communities preach doctrines of love while standing on a power structure based on cash. Our churches couple with their larger social ecosystem through the tax code, most often organizing their internal power structures around the protocols of the 501 series of corporate charters.
It was a message of faith in a single, balanced community body for which the man named Jesus Christ was murdered at Golgotha. It was a message that reminded us of a time when we used to have each other's backs - regardless of whether it was rational to us in the moments of our solidarity. Feed the hungry. Tend the sick. House the strange. As a philosophy, his was to remind us that when we place our faith into each other, we stand taller than any Corporate Person in whose veins flow the impersonal, amoral faith. We stand as a single body against the flow of the river. It is through the magic of an irrational, communal solidarity we stand as leviathans against the tides of entropy, gazing forever towards a state of infinite complexity, endless beauty, and light.
Because the nature of the new faiths are impersonal and amoral, and because we are no longer required to have faith in one another… we are no longer required to keep our promises to one another. Who needs faith in your neighboring communities when you get all the matter and energy you need to satisfy your budgets by outright consuming the matters and energies of yourselves? No longer are faith communities required to remember the protocols which once let them maintain healthy, working relationships with their neighbors.
The dilemma of individualism comes to infect the whole communal identity. Churches have a great deal of faith invested into the idea they can stand alone as a community, all they need is enough cash.
Currently the best model I have for making some sense of how the structures of power of the individual relates to those of the community is the theory of holonics, advanced by journalist Arthur Koestler in the late 1960s in his book The Ghost in the Machine. It posits that at each level of hierarchy among rational, living systems is in and of itself a whole, living system. We are made of a body, consisting of organs, which are made of cells. At each level, each living system is responsible for tending to its own internal balance.
Within the scope of personal, individual ecosystems there is a structure which requires rationality to function. It is intrinsic to our biology and a part of the way we came to be part of a community in the first place. However, the virtual space of the communal ecosystem is one which, to us at least, appears to be irrational. It is because this is a different level of Koestler’s hierarchy. The social ecosystem is the community's possession, and as such not one of us can ever fully comprehend or appreciate the amalgamation of public opinions. But it is within this irrational space that we find a virtualized, abstract intelligence, not powered by any computer. This is our analog intelligence.
And yet, there is a way for the rational and irrational spaces to interact. Through the contraction of our circle by the application of a covenant, we can organize the protocols to organize the processes of virtualization and abstraction necessary for an individual to interact with the whole. And now that we have come full circle, we might once again remember the names of our tribes. We can now apply all of the new technologies which have been discovered in the meantime since forgetting them.
Technologies like the general assemblage, a process used by the Occupy Wall Street movement to make sound, rational, communal decisions by exploiting the personal and irrational biases of consenting moderators. Technologies like IPv6 networking protocols which offer the potential to untether us from the telecommunications monopolies. Technologies like the Ethereum blockchain, which distributes computational loads across entire communities.
We made a major mistake which caused us to forget the names of our tribes before we knew how vital they were to remember in the first place. That name, that song, that rhythm, that resonance that causes us to dance through space in time in the ways two people sometimes do together.
If we are to return to an ecosystem of faith, we are required to reclaim both our structures of power and systems of communication from the corporations. If - and only if - we are able to do so, there will forever be a space for the rational, individual self within the seemingly irrational community.